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Faced with a pandemic, local arts organizations “roll with the punches” with outdoor performances


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From left to right: Dr. Phillips Center Vice President of Programming Foster Cronin, Creative City Project Executive Director Cole NeSmith, Orlando Shakes Artistic Director Jim Helsinger Photos: Foster Cronin, Cole NeSmith, Orlando Shakes

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Faced with a deadly virus that prevents large groups of people from gathering safely, artists in Central Florida have found ways to keep the performing arts alive. 

Joining Intersection are Foster Cronin, vice president of programming at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Jim Helsinger, artistic director of Orlando Shakes, and Cole NeSmith, founder and executive director of Creative City Project, to talk about how their organizations are using outdoor venues to bring back live performance. 

Cronin recalls when the pandemic hit, “The industry just everywhere shut completely down, and that’s never happened.”

NeSmith says despite hardships, artists have a chance to make the most of the situation.

“I think all of us feel very deeply for the actors and our colleagues and ultimately, our friends who have been so negatively impacted in the entertainment and arts industries,” he says. “There are so many difficult things that have been happening. But also, this is an opportunity.”

Creative City Project is opening its latest production, “Down the Rabbit Hole,” this weekend at Mead Botanical Garden. Orlando Shakes is bringing back full-scale productions with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Little Shop of Horrors” at the amphitheater at Lake Eola this spring. The Dr. Phillips Center’s Frontyard Festival allows audiences to watch live performances from socially-distanced boxes. 

NeSmith says that in an outdoor performance, you have to learn to “roll with the punches.” 

“There are so many unexpected elements that present themselves when you’re in an outdoor space, whether that’s a person or a vehicle or weather in Florida,” he says. “It’s about embracing them, accepting them for what they are and figuring out how you can create a compelling guest experience in the midst of all of the insanity.” 

Helsinger says he performed at Lake Eola for almost 20 years before Orlando Shakes got its home in Loch Haven Park. He recalls performances being interrupted by loud sirens, helicopters and a family of geese.

His advice to actors if they get interrupted by a loud noise from the outside world? 

“Enjoy it.” 

Helsinger says those unexpected elements are what live theatre is all about.

“What do we most want? Something that is absolutely unique to my experience right now,” he says. “Live theater does that, and live theater that’s outside for sure something is going to happen that has never happened before and will probably never happen again.” 

NeSmith says this fosters a sense of camaraderie between the actors and the audience. 

“We’re all in this together,” he says.

“Audiences are so forgiving,” says Cronin. “So I think, just the fact of bringing everybody back together and this community uplift outweighs any kind of distractions.”

 


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